The art of the emblematic caves of Sumbay
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The art of the emblematic caves of Sumbay

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The art of the emblematic caves of Sumbay

The Sumbay Caves are located in the district of Arequipa, within the province, department and region of the same name. It is located exactly on the back slope of the Misti volcano, at a height of 5,100 to 4,127 meters above sea level, on the current Colca route coming from Arequipa; and it is an important shelter of the Paleolithic cave legacy, in addition to being recognized, since 2000, as Cultural Heritage of the Nation.


The Rock Art found in the caves of Sumbay, would have an approximate age of 8,000 to 6,000 years and has been studied to a greater degree by the archaeologist Máximo Neira, who began his studies after the 1968 expedition. According to the data obtained by this researcher, The cave would have been inhabited between 5,800 and 3,000 years before our era, by the first hunters and gatherers of the Colca.


During the 1968 expedition, at least nine caves were discovered in Sumbay. In these you can see the finished work of at least 500 cave paintings -only in the grotto called su-3- and they have an importance equal to those found within the Toquepala and Lauricocha complexes.


The aforementioned grotto su-3 stands out, in addition to the presence of motifs based on the fauna of the place, for the fact that the creator of the drawings made a technique present in them that allows the sketches to be seen in a three-dimensional way-taking advantage of the of the caves-; making, thanks to this, more realistic the images found.


About the fauna represented, this is significant, since in addition to animals currently known and still typical of the area, such as vicuñas, huanacos, pumas, among others; they are found in the representations, pictographs of fauna currently extinct in the area, as is the case of the so-called suris, an animal similar to a rhea. Accompanying these zoomorphic representations are anthropomorphic images in a hunting attitude; The human presence in the pictographs of Sumbay is not only reduced to a work activity, since some can also be seen in which the presence of dancers is observed who could respond to ritual purposes in favor of obtaining a good hunt.


The paintings found in the Sumbay Caves are made in white, cream, yellow and khaki red or ochre. It is believed, according to Neira's research, that the colors used are an indication of the different dates, the oldest being those made in white pigmentation.


Along with the images of hunting and dance already mentioned, and that bear witness to the customs of these first men of the Colca; It is necessary to mention that remains of the hunting instruments used by those have also been found in the place, of which the presence of two different groups can be observed: the first worked in retinite stone; and the second, in obsidian stone.


In order for the visitor to reach the Caves of Sumbay, they must travel 80 km from Arequipa to Sumbay, from there go to the Caves for an average of 5 more Kilometers. The type of entrance to the place is free and it does not present established visiting hours, although the recommendation is that it be carried out during the mornings.



The Sumbay Caves are a tourist attraction in the city of Arequipa, which are They are located about 88 km from Arequipa, at a height of approximately 4,127 meters above sea level.


It has cave paintings dated between 6,000 and 8,000 years old, representing human and animal figures. It is located behind the Misti volcano. The caves of Sumbay. They are contiguous to the area where archaeological remains from the pre-ceramic period have been found. And the whole complex is located within the limits of the National Reserve of Salinas and Aguada Blanca. These "caves" are the result of a continuous erosive process, the which, favored by a prior fracturing system of the volcanic material, has given rise to result in the fall of blocks in the form of columns or prisms that precipitate in the direction towards the creek. This accumulation of materials in capricious forms, forms small caves, which together are known as the Stone Forest of Sumbay. In many of more than 500 cave art figures have been counted in these caves. Near the place, it is located the Stone Forest of Puruña, in the town of Cañahuas. The tourist importance of "caves" or grottoes, lies in its archaeological remains of cave art as well as in its particular scenic beauty. The Sumbay lithic industry was very complex, it is considered that. From its elaboration, a new industry appears in the southern area of ​​Peru.



It is located behind the Misti volcano, 88 kms. from the city of Arequipa, in the district of Yanahuara, at an approximate height of 4,127 meters above sea level.


The art of the emblematic caves of Sumbay

In 1968 the archaeologist Máximo Neira Avendaño found an archaeological complex of nine imposing caves behind the Misti volcano and 88 kilometers from Arequipa. Located within the limits of the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve, the discovery of the Sumbay caves marked the prehistoric era of Arequipa.


Currently, the caves are shown as imposing stone soldiers that protect Arequipa's art and history. Its magic is exhibited in its rocky walls that house valuable cave paintings from the Paleolithic era. His pictography represents human figures, camelids, pumas and foxes, painted in cream white with an antiquity between 6,000 and 8,000 BC.


The main cave hides more than 500 drawings of South American camelids. Most of these animals are not in motion, but rather at rest. This is because these paintings were created in the last stages of the hunters, when they already knew about the domestication of these animals.


A striking figure in this cave is an amazing shaman disguised as a camelid. Therefore, it is believed that these caves were also a religious center for the primitives.


The creamy white color used in Sumbay is a peculiarity of the cave art of the place, which was obtained from the clay that remains from the eruption of the volcanoes that surround the reserve. In order to fix the drawings on those walls for thousands of years, they used animal fat. Thanks to this, today we can revive its beauty.


In addition to the paintings, stone spearheads, disc knives for cutting meat, bone scrapers for cleaning animal hides, and sewing utensils have been found.


What to see and do in the Sumbay Caves?

Discover the different shapes and figures of paintings. Most are camelids, although there are also some drawings of pumas and rheas or suris. Human figures also appear although in a smaller quantity.


Observe the colors used and imagine their probable meaning. The paintings are mostly done in white, although there are also ocher with different shades ranging from red to yellow.


Appreciate the typical camelids that inhabit the area. It is common to come across alpacas or vicuñas walking in search of food on this walk, which were surely the main source of inspiration for these ancient paintings.


Visit the town. Sumbay is a small uninhabited town where there is a church and a train graveyard.


Get to know the stone forest of Puruña. Within the same route and also included in the limits of the National Reserve of Salinas and Aguada Blanca you can discover this site with beautiful white stone formations caused by the erosion of the sun, water and winds.


How to get to the Sumbay Caves?

To go by car from Arequipa to the Sumbay Caves you must take route 34A and then 1S, which is the same road that leads to Chivay. Once in Sumbay, you must follow a 3-kilometer dirt road to reach the caves. The entire trip takes about an hour and a half.


Other ways to go are to hire a private service or a tourist tour from Arequipa. The prices in this case are usually somewhat high, since there are very few agencies that carry out this route. In the event that you hire a private service, you must then take a van in Sumbay that will transport you to the caves or take a 20-minute walk.



  • Schedule. There is no set time to visit the caves, although it is recommended to do so during the morning hours.
  • Best time to visit the caves. The months with the best weather are usually between May and November, although it is always advisable to check the weather forecast before visiting them, because the rain can make the tour uncomfortable.
  • Entry. Entrance to the Sumbay caves is free of charge.
  • What to bring? The town of Sumbay is almost without inhabitants, so it is essential that you carry supplies of food and drink. In addition, trekking shoes and comfortable clothing will make your walks easier on the route. Do not forget to bring water, snacks, a camera, sunglasses, a hat or a hat, and sunscreen.
  • Where to stop to eat? If you don't have provisions, it is convenient that you make a stop in Chivay where there are a good number of restaurants and food stores.

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